Op-Ed: Give gratitude to transit workers by staying off of public transportation

MTA Chair Pat Foye at a Feb. 18 Press conference in the Fulton Street subway station. (Photo by Mark Hallum)


In the few weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic began, life has changed dramatically for all of us. New York State is on pause: non-essential businesses have shuttered, with most employees required to work from home.

I’m now among them. I tested positive for coronavirus just over a week ago. I’m fortunate in that it’s a mild case that hasn’t affected my ability to work through this crisis. But I know that many New Yorkers, including many of my colleagues, are suffering through worse.

New York City Transit alone now has nearly 900 subway and bus employees who have tested positive for COVID-19. Another almost 5,000 are on home quarantine. And heartbreakingly, 19 brave colleagues have passed away due to this virus. Another brave colleague, Garrett Goble, was murdered last week in a senseless fire on board his train.

We owe them, and all transit workers, a great debt of gratitude for their commitment to public service and moving this city in this challenging time. Their jobs have never been more important. We have a duty to transport the essential workers of this pandemic: the doctors, nurses, childcare and utility workers, police officers and other first responders. I’m honored to lead such a dedicated workforce who are still showing up day in and day out to ensure New York can respond to and fight this crisis. As Governor Cuomo said Friday, they are doing heroic work.

That said, we’re still faced with major staffing constraints. Four times as many employees as usual are calling out sick. Implementing the Essential Service Plan has allowed us to minimize the number of crews needed per shift, but it’s not enough.

This is a frightening time for us all. Like everyone else, I worry about the health of my family and loved ones. My daughter is an ER nurse, and I’m concerned about her safety every day. But the best thing the rest of us can do for our essential workers is to follow the advice of health experts and stay home.

To put it plainly, non-essential workers should not use the subway or buses. While ridership has fallen to historic lows, we need to get those numbers down even further to prevent crowding in the system. To that end, we’ve deployed new messaging about social distancing and we’re working closely with the MTA Police and NYPD to assist riders in following those recommendations. 

We continue to aggressively clean stations, cars, buses and Access-A-Ride vehicles. We’ve distributed more than 300,000 masks and over 3 million gloves to our workers. We’ve also ended most cash transactions and implemented rear-door boarding on buses.

We’re doing everything we can. We need you to do your part too. Stay home, stop the spread, and we’ll get through this together.

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